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Fear, insecurity and risk: Refugee journeys from Iraq to Australia

Hoffman, Sue (2010) Fear, insecurity and risk: Refugee journeys from Iraq to Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Between 1999 and 2001 almost 13,000 refugees made their way to Australia from the Middle East region. About 4,800 of them were Iraqi who had first fled to neighbouring countries such as Iran, Jordan and Syria, then to Indonesia via Malaysia. After negotiating with people smugglers, the vast majority boarded unsafe wooden boats bound for Australia. Some never got that far, instead finding themselves stranded in Indonesia. This thesis follows 22 participants as they travelled from the Middle East, across southeast Asia, onto the people smugglers’ boats and - for those who made it that far - onto Australian shores.

Grounded theory was influential in the methods used to interview participants and contributed to the analysis phase, from which a number of themes emerged. Central to these was the insecurity and uncertainty faced by participants over a protracted period. They spoke about the psychological impact of their experiences and there is a marked difference when comparing the narratives of the participants settled in Australia with those living in a limbo situation in Indonesia. The former recalled the stresses of their journey and the associated feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. In the case of the latter group, these feelings were ever present as their journey was not yet over.

The thesis examines the relations between participants and the people smugglers. Although the majority of participants were critical, about one quarter considered the smugglers in a positive light as people who helped them find a place of safety.

The thesis also considers the actions of the governments of those countries where participants spent varying amounts of time, and the impact of these actions upon participants’ security and safety. Here, the thesis draws on two theoretical approaches associated with risk: the governmentality approach and Ulrich Beck’s theory of the world risk society. It is argued that governments’ actions increased the risk and danger faced by the participants, and extended the periods during which they experienced extreme stress and uncertainty.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia and Pedersen, Anne
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